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September 10, 2011

Our 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Portrait … Going the Other Way

I was struggling with what image to present you for the tenth 9/11, as much as I’ve been struggling with the “happening” itself.

Whatever the story or event, Bag works hard every day to highlight that photo which captures the breadth of the story that much better than the others — or offers an angle that tweaks most other imagery for being stereotyped or conventional. In the past week, however, there has been such a mountain, such a barrage of imagery, I’ve sort of shut down.

Readers of The Bag are well aware of my wariness when it comes to memorialization. In the seven years this site has been chronicling the visualization of political culture, it seems the tendency to commemorate has only grown more ritualized and perfunctory. (For just one graphically hakneyed example, see this and weep.) It’s the temptation to turn moments for reflection and introspection into playback reels, voyeuristic eye candy or spectacle that has led so many New Yorkers to flee the formality of this day.

Thankfully, friend and brilliant photographer, Mario Tama, sent me this a couple days ago, a photo unique out of the 9/11-remembrance constellation, if for one thing, by simply managing not to take itself too seriously.

The photo is from “Fashion’s Night Out,” a part of Fashion Week. You’ll notice the Trade Center “Tribute in Light” in the background. And, before you conclude either Mario or I are trivializing, framing the tenth anniversary as a fashion or for being primarily a show, consider the following…. Fashion Week 2001 was just entering its fourth day when the planes hit, throwing the event and the careers of many new designers way off-kilter. Earlier this week, an article in the NYT related how the impact actually led to changes that dramatically opened up the fashion business to new designers. (Now how many industries and institutions, as a result of 9/11, can say they grew more democratic?)

Then, to the extent 9/11 has contributed to America losing its bearings, I also embrace this photo — especially how it highlights the girl in white, a pedestrian beacon channelling the energy of the towers of illumination. Surrounded by people in their dark uniforms, the photo might be seen to offer some different prescriptions going forward: that perhaps we should look for our energy and magnificence closer to street level; that maybe we can all stand to lighten up; and, as compelling as it is to self-consciously relate and record every little thing, we could do as well to keep our big reflections in the background and simply be on our way.

About the Photographer

Mario Tama

Mario Tama has covered global events including September 11, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the funeral of Pope John Paul II and Hurricane Katrina - before, during and after the storm. His work on Baghdad’s orphans was exhibited at Visa Pour L’Image in France and his photographs from Hurricane Katrina were featured in National Geographic, Newsweek and newspapers worldwide. In 2008 he was nominated for an Emmy for his documentary work on Coney Island and won Cliff Edom's New America Award for his work in New Orleans. He has received numerous other honors from institutions including the White House News Photographers Association, UNICEF Photo of the Year, Pictures of the Year International, Care International Award for Humanitarian Reportage, China International Press Photo Contest, and Days Japan International Photojournalism Awards. He studied photography at Rochester Institute of Technology and freelanced in Washington, DC for the Washington Post and Agence France-Presse before joining Getty Images. Mario is based in New York City. See more of Mario's work for BagNews here.

  • bks

    Sunday, September 11, 6:21 AM

    KABUL — Two Afghans were killed and nearly 80 NATO soldiers were wounded
    after a truck packed with explosives hidden under firewood rammed into
    the entrance of a military base in eastern Afghanistan, military
    officials said Sunday.


  • Anonymous

    I also embrace this photo — especially how it highlights the girl in white, … 

    She stands out without a peep of recognition from those around her. I too was struck by her presence for reasons I couldn’t immediately place. She’s obviously an outlier, dressed for a time and place different from those around her. Everyone’s attentions are directed elsewhere, to their phones, inward, somewhere besides here.

    An hour later a connection: she’s <a href=''La Liberté guidant le peuple Delacroix (1830), Liberty Leading the People, 2011. Centuries bring change, the battlefield is different, the ideal has morphed from triumph to ironic detachment, but the general theme and composition is the same. Modern Liberty is not revolutionary. In fact, she looks a little out of place.

    • glenn

      Great take.

  • Thirdeye Pushpin

    Love the Love Me on the lamp post

  • Tardigrades

    When I first opened your page, I saw young adults looking about, taking pictures, talking on their phones, just doing their life…. Then I noticed the Lights where the towers stood. My take on this image is that we are going forward – at least the young are. That was good to feel.

  • Stella

    Excellent choice.  Life goes on despite the wallowing media. Young people know how to let the past be past.  The Delacroix reference is wonderful - thanks.

  • Kailuahale

    This photo touched me deeply, and reminded me of “La Liberté” as well.  In these are the young people  I see, rather than ironic detachment, a deep sense of concern accompanied by strength of purpose in their faces.  The phones keep them connected globally, rather than detached or inward, in my view.  And, I see the beautiful young woman not so much as an outlier, but having her own sense of style (white after Labor Day, oh my!).  Yes, like a beacon with an attitude, striding forward into an uncertain future.

  • Anonymous

    I hadn’t thought about the Delacroix resemblance, bdb, but I can see it now. I was struck by the way those in the photo are looking in different directions. In contast, in Liberté the little dude packing two pistols is looking straight at us, but everyone else is connected. The guy on the ground wearing the colors of the French flag is looking at Lady Liberty, who’s looking back to encourage her followers. The followers have their eyes on the prize, so to speak. So, apart from the little dude, the gazes all connect to form a unity. Not so in the photo. Good picture and good choice, Michael.

  • Anonymous

    Re your comment about fleeing the formality, Michael, have you read this article by Tom Engelhart? He says eloquently what I’ve been feeling for a while now:

  • Bugboy

    I find this photo captivating.  The woman at the center of the image is detached, indifferent to the whirling melting pot of humanity surrounding her.  Is that a peace sign within a heart I see around her neck?   

    I’m not sure, is this Lady Liberty?  Or the epitome of human spirit and resolve in the face of those who would crush it?  Perhaps that is what Delacroix was attempting to portray in his painting, one and the same?  We will prevail, in spite of ourselves.

  • Christian Hansen

    What a beautiful image!

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